Are We Really Saving the Planet?

April 15th, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | 2 Comments »

Next Friday is Earth Day. And as part of the celebration we will certainly hear phrases like “save the planet” or “help the environment”. The irony here is that the true green movement has nothing to do with saving the planet. Making green choices like recycling, composting, driving hybrid cars, etc (all great stuff) does nothing to save the planet. It can however do a lot to save us – the human species.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not cynical about Earth Day at all. Quite the opposite, and I’m personally very committed to living a sustainable life. I just think that words matter. And if we think that we are truly saving the planet or helping the environment with our green, sustainable lifestyles, then we are doing all of these things for the wrong reason. It’s OK to be a little selfish or self-oriented about this. It’s OK to say “we need to rescue ourselves . . . from ourselves”, because that’s really what the green movement is all about.

If we did nothing, and paid absolutely no attention to how we lived and there was no green movement, the very worst that would happen is we would pretty quickly see the demise of the human civilization. And while this is absolutely not an outcome that I wish to see, it would have very little impact on the planet. Quite honestly, the planet would recover very nicely, and very quickly. The earth has been around for billions of years and has survived much worse than what we can throw at it. In a 1992 standup routine George Carlin said “that it’s the height of human arrogance to think that we are so important that we can actually destroy the earth.” It’s not gonna’ happen. But destroying ourselves – now that’s clearly within our reach.

I think this quote very eloquently captures the spirit of what I’m trying to say:

This planet doesn’t need us to get saved; we need this planet to save us. We exist by the grace of an infinitely finely-tuned living organism called the Earth. We don’t run this organism, we’re not in charge of it, we’re not even its guardians. It’s the other way around: it’s in charge of us and is our guardian. Mess with it in a serious way, and we’re history.

So as we celebrate Earth Day this year, let’s be mindful of what we can really affect. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Earth Day is to celebrate each other. Let’s turn our focus to the human species – what we’re really trying to save. It seems that if our focus is to be fair with one another, to truly embrace the concept of a world community and to care about future generations, then we actually have a chance at saving ourselves. Saving the planet, well, that’s just a red herring.

Have a wonderful Earth Day celebration . . . and by the way, one of the best ways to “save yourself” is to choose organic! Did you know that if everyone in this country ate only organic foods (meaning we used no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in our farming practices) then we would actually use less oil than if everyone in the U.S. quit driving their cars. Think about that. It’s pretty remarkable, and something that is ultimately achievable.